Singer Vehicle Design
Rob Dickinson, head of Singer Vehicle Design, is no ordinary individual. This is a good thing, though, as it means that the result of a Singer restoration is no ordinary 911. The painstaking work carried out in their small Los Angeles shop has created a business that has shot to international acclaim, redefining the hot-rodded Porsche 911 genre.
The lead singer of the band ‘Catherine Wheel’ for ten years, Dickinson moved to LA after the alt-rock four-piece disbanded in 2000. Settling into life in the Golden State, Dickinson built a café racer-inspired 911E, nicknamed ‘the Brown Bomber’, in 2003 (featured in issue 95 of Total 911, above).
His personal build drew a lot of admirers during its time as his daily driver in Hollywood. “A lot of people wanted to buy it,” explains Dickinson. “That car convinced me that I could come up with a car that looked a certain way and would push a lot of emotional buttons in people.”
With an in-built love for 911s and the seed of an idea planted, Singer Vehicle Design was founded in 2009 after Dickinson managed to attract some investors, allowing him to build a car to show at Monterey that year.
“I was convinced that there was a way of restoring an old 911 and saving it from an uncertain future,” he explains. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I want to start a company.’ I was just really obsessed with trying to present this idea. With a clean slate and a reasonably open cheque book, we could attempt to optimise every element of the car and celebrate the air-cooled era.”
Inside their Sun Valley workshop, just north of Hollywood, Singer’s restoration is made to sound remarkably simple by Dickinson: “We just run through the 964 and, with a ‘money no object’ approach, ask, ‘How do we make this fantastic?’
“We cut the compromises that Porsche had to make in the Nineties and optimise every inch of it to a – some might say – ludicrously in-depth level.”
These optimisations include a complete reworking of the interior, including a choice of two different seats, one of which is from Singer’s own mould. Attention to detail is minute, with Singer perhaps one of the only modifiers that stresses as much over the texture of the leather as the weight of the connecting rods.
When it comes to the mechanical work, Dickinson himself admits that he is not an engineer, coming himself from a background in design and the arts.
However, Singer’s fastidious approach to restoration and modification has led to the company attracting some illustrious names and talented engineers to help create their bespoke reimaginings.
The carbon fibre bodies (which help to increase strength, while reducing weight) are produced by Aria Group, located 40 miles south in Irvine. Contracted to do a lot of military grade work, Aria produce the shells from Singer’s moulds before painting them and returning to the Sun Valley workshop.
This is when Singer begins the modification process in earnest, fitting custom-valved dampers, designed in conjunction with Öhlins’ engineers.
The 3.8-litre engine at the heart of every one of Singer’s Porsche 911s is the result of a partnership with Cosworth. “We needed our engines built and developed by somebody,” Dickinson says.
“So we thought, ‘All we can do is ask Cosworth if they’d be interested.’ They were, and they helped us develop an engine that is a great compromise between a race-bred normally aspirated 911 engine, and a proper road-going engine that has the durability and the torque.”
The attention to every little detail does not come cheap. With well over 4,000 hours of work going into the cars, labour is one of the biggest costs (on top of the exotic materials).
However, the $350,000 (£213,000) approximate starting price creates a finished product that is simply jaw-dropping, changing perceptions about the fit and finish of a modified car.
Asked whether he thinks Singer’s approach to restoring and modifying has made people more accepting of 911 hot rods, Dickinson is typically modest: “It’s probably for other people to decide on those sort of levels,” he starts.
“Maybe we have taken it to its logical zenith, and that was enabled because we knew that the services would be unavoidably expensive.”
By creating a peerless end product, Singer has had no end of admirers helping to boost its standing in the industry. Dickinson cites Jay Leno as one such fan. “Without all these fantastic people whose opinions are trusted by the automotive community we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Rob explains.
Thanks to the creative zest and ‘can do’ spirit that seems to permeate Los Angeles culture – and the powers of the internet, too – Singer is a business with truly international standing. Each new restoration (named after the car’s final destination) is eagerly anticipated and deservedly admired.
Currently, Dickinson has no plans to diversify the business in the short term. With the workshop awash with myriad Porsche 911 parts, a spares arm has not been ruled out, but it would take an incredible amount of infrastructure to make successful.
“Anything we do in the future has to have that level of OCD madness. That sucks a lot out of everybody. We’re going to be doing some new stuff, but not immediately,” he explains. Whatever it is, the 911 will continue to be central.
With the past, present and future all accounted for, one question remains: how did the name come about?
Owner: Rob Dickinson
Location: Los Angeles, California,
Telephone: 001 (323) 799-1237
Most expensive creation? A couple of cars have cost in excess of $500,000 (£300,000)
Average number of hours per car? Around 4,500 man-hours (including contracted work)
Most exotic material used? Carbon fibre (used structurally, not aesthetically) and titanium in the engine
“Hayden Burvill – who runs WEVO – and I had a meeting about the concept, I think it was in early 2008,” Rob elucidates. “He suggested that any mule we used to test our ideas should be named ‘Norbert’ [after Norbert Singer].
“I thought it might be offensive, but I did like ‘Singer’. I liked the relevance: celebrating the air-cooled flat six, which has a definite song and, of course, I was the singer in a band for years.”
With a stunning output of cars, built on a foundation of passion, not business, Singer is likely to be taking centre stage for many more years to come. The stars have well and truly aligned for this remarkable restorer and modifier.